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Gray Divorce: Why Boomers Are Divorcing More Than Any Other Generation

Hand removing a ring

Have you ever had one of those conversations that starts casually and ends up in a philosophical rabbit hole? That’s exactly what happened to my wife Camea and me yesterday. We were reminiscing about how marriage, family, and divorce used to be these clear-cut concepts back then. During our time as teenagers, the concept of family felt like a script everyone followed: get married young, build a life together, raise some kids, then retire and enjoy the grandkids.

Divorce? Back then, it was like Voldemort – the word you dared not speak. But fast forward to today, and wow, how things have changed! The whole marriage, family, and divorce dynamic has done a complete 180. Gray divorce, once as rare as a unicorn sighting, is now popping up in conversations about modern love faster than you can say “swipe right.”

If you’re scratching your head wondering, “Wait, what is gray divorce exactly?” don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this post, I’ll not only define the term for you but I`ll also delve into the reasons why baby boomers (those over 50 years old) are divorcing at a higher rate than any other generation. Spoiler alert: it’s more than just mid-life crises and fancy cars.

We’ll also explore how different generations view gray divorce. For example, Millennials and Gen Xers (people born between the mid-1960s and about 1980) seem more accepting of it. But why the difference? Let’s find out.

What Is Gray Divorce Anyway?

Picture this: A couple, happily married for decades, maybe even since high school! They’ve built a life together, raised kids, and maybe even celebrated their golden anniversary with a bangin’ party (complete with embarrassing photos from their youth, of course 😂).

Now, imagine this same couple deciding to call it quits, even though their hair might be a little more salt and pepper than sunshine yellow. That, my friends, is a gray divorce.

Gray divorce: A senior woman in her 80s is putting off a marriage ring. Closeup
A senior woman in her 80s is putting off a marriage ring. Closeup

The concept of gray divorce became popular in 2004 when AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons) published the term in a study on divorce called “Midlife and Beyond.” Since then, it has been generally used to describe older couples splitting up more often than ever before. Conner and Roberts, a law firm based in Chattanooga, defines it as ‘the separation of “gray-haired” individuals who are 50 years of age or older’. In simpler terms, it is what happens when couples decide to call it quits later in life, usually when they’ve already hit retirement age or thereabouts.

But why the sudden surge in goodbyes after all those years together? Let`s answer that question in the next section, because there are a few reasons, and some of them might surprise you!

What Causes Gray Divorce?

The rate of divorce these days is so high that the U.S. Census Department states that 34.9% of all Americans who divorce annually are aged 55 or older. That’s more than twice the rate of any other age group surveyed! This phenomenon is sending ripples through society, challenging our ideas about love, marriage, and happily ever after.

It’s sad, but the big question remains: Why do couples say “I Don’t” 🚮 later in life?

As a professional marriage coach, I always witness firsthand the complexities of long-term relationships. My wife, Camea, who specializes in trauma counseling, often brings valuable insights to my work with couples. She always tells me that understanding the intricate dynamics of relationships requires a deep dive into both the emotional and psychological aspects. And together, we’ve discovered that while the rising statistics of gray divorce may raise eyebrows, the underlying reasons are far from simple. Indeed, they often resemble a tangled web of emotions, histories, and evolving desires

Whilst the reasons are many, let’s explore five key factors that can contribute to gray divorce. We’ll delve into these reasons with real-life examples to illustrate the challenges couples face, drawing from our combined experience in guiding individuals through the tumultuous waters of relationship struggles:

1. Growing Apart: The Slow Drift

Divergence of directions.

Remember that comfy old sweater you used to love but just don’t feel the same way about anymore? Sometimes, that’s what happens in marriages. People change over time, and after decades together, you might realize you’ve grown in different directions. Maybe your spouse loves watching reality TV while you’d rather curl up with a good book. These differences might seem small, but over time, they can add up and leave you feeling like roommates, not soulmates.

Example: A couple we recently worked with, John and Sarah *, had been married for 30 years. John, a retired engineer, loved spending his days tinkering in the garage. Sarah, a high school teacher, craved intellectual stimulation and social interaction. Over time, they stopped making an effort to connect, leading to feelings of loneliness and resentment. Through marriage coaching, John and Sarah learned to value each other’s interests and started scheduling regular date nights where they could explore new things together.

A Marriage Coach’s Tip: Schedule regular “check-in” times with your spouse, even if it’s just 15 minutes a week. Use this time to reconnect, share your thoughts and feelings, and actively listen to each other. This can help you stay attuned to each other’s needs and prevent that slow drift.

2. The Intimacy Challenge: When The Flame Is Gone

Let’s be honest, intimacy takes work, especially in long-term marriages. The daily grind of work, kids, and household chores can easily push romance to the back burner. As people age, physical intimacy might become less frequent, and emotional connection can fade. It’s like a beautiful garden that needs constant care – neglect it, and the flowers start to wilt.

Example: During a coaching session, a couple, David and Lisa *, expressed concerns about their lack of physical intimacy. We explored the underlying reasons, such as stress and fatigue, and helped them develop strategies to create more time for connection. This included planning regular date nights without distractions and exploring different forms of physical touch that felt comfortable for both of them.

A Marriage Coach’s Tip: Make intimacy a priority, even if it’s just holding hands on the couch or taking a walk together. Schedule regular “date nights” where you focus on reconnecting with your spouse. Remember, small gestures can go a long way in keeping the spark alive.

3. Unforeseen Challenges: When Life Throws Curveballs

As a marriage coach, I’ve seen countless couples face unforeseen challenges that test the strength of their bond. These challenges can come in many forms, from a sudden health scare to a major financial setback.

Example: One couple we worked with, Mary and Tom *, had been married for over 25 years. Mary, a successful lawyer, was diagnosed with a chronic illness. The stress of her treatment and the financial strain it caused created tension in their relationship. Tom, who typically handled finances, felt overwhelmed, and Mary, used to being in control, struggled to delegate tasks. Through coaching, we helped Mary and Tom develop healthy communication strategies to express their needs and frustrations effectively. We also explored ways for them to share financial responsibilities in a way that felt comfortable for both of them.

A Marriage Coach’s Tip: Life is full of surprises, both good and bad. The key to navigating these challenges as a couple is an open communication and strong support systems. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, such as marriage coaching, if you’re struggling to cope with a difficult situation.

4. Empty Nest Syndrome: When the House Feels Too Quiet

Empty nest syndrome is the grief that many parents feel when their children move out of home. This condition is typically more common in women, who are more likely to have had the role of primary carer. It can be a significant trigger for gray divorce. After years of focusing on raising children, couples might suddenly find themselves with a lot of free time and a strange sense of emptiness in their once-bustling home. This can lead to a realization that they’ve grown apart over the years or that their interests and goals no longer align.

Example: We worked with a couple, Jimmy and Sandra *, who had been married for 27 years. Their lives revolved around their two daughters’ soccer games, school plays, and endless activities. When both daughters left for college, Jimmy and Sandra felt lost. They realized they hadn’t nurtured their own relationship in years and struggled to find common ground. Conversations became strained, and arguments erupted over seemingly trivial matters.

A Marriage Coach’s Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of an empty nest! Anticipate this transition and start planning for it well before your children leave home. Rediscover your shared interests, explore new hobbies together, and schedule regular “date nights” to keep the spark alive. Remember, a strong marriage is an investment that requires ongoing effort and attention, no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Here are some additional points to consider about empty nest syndrome:

  • Rekindle the Romance: Plan special outings, take a weekend getaway, or simply hold hands on the couch. Small gestures can go a long way in reminding each other of the love you share.

  • Find New Common Ground: Explore new activities together, whether it’s taking a cooking class, joining a hiking group, or volunteering for a cause you both care about.

  • Prioritize Communication: Schedule regular check-ins to discuss your feelings and concerns. Actively listen to each other and be open to compromise.

5. Financial Friction: When Money Talks, But the Conversation Turns Sour

Financial disagreements are a common culprit in gray divorce, and it’s not just about the lack of money but also about having MORE money. For couples who’ve been married for decades, accumulated wealth can become a source of tension, especially when there’s a lack of transparency or shared goals for the future.

Example: We recently coached a couple, Barbara and John *, who had been married for 35 years. Barbara, a frugal saver, preferred to invest their retirement funds conservatively. John, on the other hand, had a more adventurous approach and wanted to invest in riskier bitcoin investments for potentially higher returns. This constant disagreement about finances created a wedge in their relationship, leading to arguments and resentment.

A Marriage Coach’s Tip: Communication and transparency are key to navigating financial disputes in a long-term marriage. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Schedule Regular Money Meetings: Set aside dedicated time each month to discuss your finances openly and honestly.

  • Develop a Shared Vision for the Future: Discuss your retirement goals, travel aspirations, and desired lifestyle. This will help you make financial decisions that align with your shared vision.

  • Seek Professional Help: If you’re struggling to communicate effectively or reach an agreement, consider consulting a financial advisor who can provide objective guidance and help you create a workable financial plan.

Remember, money shouldn’t be a taboo topic in your relationship. Open communication and a collaborative approach can help you navigate financial challenges and build a secure future together.

These are just a few of the reasons why couples might consider divorce later in life. In the next section, we’ll explore some additional challenges that can contribute to gray divorce, and I’ll share some tips on how to navigate these complexities and build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship, no matter your age.

Navigating the Gray: Challenges and Considerations in Later-Life Divorce

Gray divorce presents a unique set of challenges compared to divorces at a younger age. Let’s explore some of the key areas to consider as well as some wisdom nuggets to help you navigate this complex process:

A. The Financial Maze: Untangling Assets and Income

  • Dividing What You’ve Built: Splitting assets accumulated over decades of marriage can be a complex process. This includes the house, cars, investments, and even retirement accounts.

  • Retirement Realities: Retirement plans may need to be divided, potentially impacting future financial security for both spouses.

  • Spousal Support Considerations: Depending on the circumstances, alimony or spousal support might be a factor, requiring careful planning for both parties.

B. The Emotional Rollercoaster: Coping with Change

  • Loneliness and Isolation: Divorce can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially for those who have been married for a long time.

  • Impact on Adult Children: Gray divorce can be just as difficult for adult children as it is for the parents. It’s important to prioritize open communication and support for everyone involved.

  • Adjusting to a New Normal: Coping with a major lifestyle change later in life requires emotional resilience and a strong support system.

C. Legal Knots: Tying Up the Loose Ends

  • Understanding Your Rights and Obligations: Seeking legal counsel is crucial to ensure a fair and legal divorce settlement.

  • Revisiting Estate Plans: Existing wills and trusts might need to be revised to reflect the changes in your marital status.

  • Planning for Healthcare and Long-Term Care: Having conversations about healthcare directives and long-term care plans becomes even more important after a divorce.

Remember, you don’t have to navigate this alone. Here at A Growing Space, we offer personalized coaching services to help couples facing gray divorce manage the emotional, financial, and legal complexities. We can guide you towards a positive and healthy resolution.

How to Find Meaning and Purpose After A Gray Divorce

Let’s talk feelings, folks.

Divorcing later in life can be a real emotional rollercoaster. It’s like finding out your favorite TV show got canceled right before the season finale – disappointment, sadness, and maybe even a little anger thrown in for good measure. Likewise, saying goodbye to a partner after years or even decades together can hit you right in the feels, leaving you with gigantic feelings of disappointment and sadness.

Unlike younger couples, older adults have often spent decades together, building a shared history and intertwined lives. The dissolution of such a long-term relationship can lead to profound feelings of grief, loss, and a sense of identity disruption. I have seen that many individuals experience a range of intense emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, guilt, and anxiety about the future. The emotional pain can be comparable to, if not more intense than, the grief experienced from the death of a spouse, as there is no clear societal roadmap for processing the loss and rebuilding a new life. It’s tough, right?

Coping Strategies and Support Systems

So, you’ve just joined the gray divorce club – now what? Well, fear not, my friend, because there are plenty of coping strategies and support systems out there to help you weather the storm. It’s like having a trusty umbrella during a downpour – sure, you might still get wet, but at least you won’t drown!

“There is no clear societal roadmap for processing the pain of a divorce and rebuilding a new life…”

– Francis Pexa

One practical approach is journaling, which allows individuals to articulate and process their emotions, providing a sense of relief and perspective over time.

Journaling allows individuals to articulate and process their emotions

Seeking the guidance of a counselor or mediator can also be beneficial, as they can help individuals regain a sense of control, manage the emotional separation process, and make informed short-term decisions.

Building a strong support network of friends, family, and support groups is crucial for emotional resilience. Engaging in activities that promote self-care, such as exercise, hobbies, and social interactions, can also help mitigate emotional stress and foster a sense of normalcy and stability.

You must also know that this period of transition can be an opportunity for self-discovery and redefining one’s identity outside the context of the marriage. Many individuals find solace in pursuing new interests, hobbies, or even careers that they may have put on hold during their marriage.

It’s like starting a new chapter in your favorite book – sure, you might miss the old characters, but there are plenty of exciting adventures waiting just around the corner. Whether it’s pursuing new hobbies, rediscovering old passions, or simply enjoying the freedom to be yourself, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and taking the time to process emotions and experiences is crucial for setting the foundation for a hopeful and fulfilling future.


Phew! We’ve covered a lot of ground on this gray divorce issue, haven’t we? From defining what it is all about to exploring its emotional rollercoaster and finding ways to cope, we’ve left no stone unturned. So let’s do a quick recap of the key points we’ve discovered along the way:

  • Gray divorce is more than just a statistic. It’s a complex phenomenon with a human story at its core. It’s about couples reevaluating their lives, facing unforeseen challenges, and making difficult decisions.

  • It`s also like watching a caterpillar emerge from its cocoon and spread its wings as a beautiful butterfly – change might be scary, but it also brings new possibilities and opportunities for growth.

  • The rise of gray divorce reflects a broader societal shift in attitudes toward marriage and divorce. As life expectancy increases and social norms evolve, we might see further changes in marriage dynamics and divorce patterns.

  • If gray divorce has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable. As our society continues to evolve and adapt, so too will our ideas about love, marriage, and everything in between. Whether it’s finding new ways to support couples through rocky patches or redefining what it means to live happily ever after, one thing’s for sure – the future of relationships is anything but black and white.

Here at A Growing Space, we believe that with open communication, strong support systems, and professional guidance, couples can navigate challenges and build fulfilling relationships at any stage of life. Whether you’re facing the possibility of gray divorce, have a strong and lasting marriage, or are simply curious about the future of relationships, remember: effective communication, emotional intelligence, and a commitment to personal growth are fundamental to navigating the complexities of love and life, no matter your age.

Thank you so much for reading!

All characters appearing in this post are examples, not real-life individuals. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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